Aiming for ‘Triple-A(ge)’ standard — Devadas Krishnadas
MAY 30 — The world population is ageing. The United Nations has referred to this phenomenon as “unprecedented, pervasive and enduring”.
Its implications are most profound for urban concentrations as demands on services mount even while economic growth is imperilled by an ageing labour force.
To continue to thrive, cities will have to compete to achieve what I call the “Triple-A(ge)” standard.
This is not about the quality of their sovereign or municipal bonds but about that of their strategies to deal with ageing. The “Triple-A(ge)” standard requires the pursuit of three strategies.
Old but still can: First, and the lowest-hanging fruit strategy, is accommodation.
Cities must maximise the physical mobility of its aged. This means everything from aged-friendly infrastructure to provision of adequate social and health services.
Accommodation requires substantial and sustained investments. Finding the money to finance such expenditure will be challenging but necessary.
Old getting older and better: Second, and more challenging, is adaptation. The old are getting older.
In advanced economies, populations are increasingly better educated. Cities have a choice of seeing the old as “cost centres” or as “revenue centres” whose economic and social contributions could be extended.
Adaptation means that cities need to invest to enable people to extend working lives and even to take on second careers.
This investment to boost the mental mobility of people will rejuvenate older workers.
Talent war: Third, as global population ages, cities must compete with each other to attract young talent, to keep economy and society vibrant.
Ensuring such talent mobility, is as critical as ensuring physical and mental mobility.
Technology is critical to embracing the Triple-A(ge) standard. We have had digital cities, which were about information management. We are moving towards smart cities, which is largely about automation. But we need to rapidly transition to being intelligent cities.
Intelligent cities use technology to be efficient and effective in their systems and to harness their people’s full potential.
One way is to use technology to personalise, and thus, optimise the identification and delivery of services to each citizen. This is an exciting journey of transition of mindsets and technology.
While the ageing “waterfall” point may be still in the middle distance for most cities, the investment in becoming intelligent cities must start now. However, this will not be as simple as flipping a switch.
Singapore is a case in point.
The problem of ageing is pressing for Singapore in particular because it is co-mingled with the problem of a low and falling total fertility rate.
Is Singapore following the “Triple-A(ge)” standard?
The short answer is yes. But the long answer is more instructive.
First, our solution of population augmentation has driven growth but at the expense of productivity and with high tangible costs in infrastructure and land crunch.
Second, we are a society first and an economy second. The possible social effects of population augmentation may in the long run be more meaningful than the short term “shot in the arm” to the economy.
We should not treat as synonymous the absorptive capacities of the economy and the society. For reason of sustainability, it is ultimately the latter which should set the pace of absorption.
Singaporeans have to date, proved very tolerant and restrained. The Economist magazine recently ran an article which covered how discomforted mainland Chinese were about foreigners. In the case of China, there are only one million foreigners to a population of 1.2 billion.
In Singapore, there are nearly one million foreigners to just over three million citizens. There is no science to accurately determine the load bearing tolerance of a society.
It is by no means all bad news. Singapore embraced early the idea of technology as a powerful enabler of progress and better public management.
However, today’s challenges can be described as “wicked problems”. Wicked problems are policy challenges, which are multi-causal and multi-dimensional. They defy simple solutions.
For a policy response to be effective, it needs to be at the level of the system and must be predicated on a good understanding of the interconnectivity of policies. This is where data analytics and technology empowered decision support systems can greatly help policy makers.
While technology cannot, and should not, make decisions for us, it can help us make better decisions. But the best decisions will always be the ones tempered by good judgment. Good judgment should distinguish between efficiency and effectiveness.
Such judgment comes more from experience than from formal education. The human will always have that advantage over the machine. As pertinent, is the common sense observation that the old, with their greater experience, will have this advantage over the young.
Yet, we seem given to over-emphasise the leadership virtues of the young. We should be mindful that the deficit of experience is a gap that even the best technology cannot truly make up. — Today
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.